This essay unearths and recovers the Caribbean films and photographs made by New York School artist Rudy Burckhardt in the 1930s and 1940s. It argues that Burckhardt's work, especially his 1937 experimental film Haiti, deserves to be considered as part of a Caribbean visual archive. His deployment of a formalist practice of representation offers a visual strategy that allows him to evade the many racist and tropicalizing visual clichés and stereotypes that burden North American depictions of the region. Burckhardt's interest in form and surface over content and depth draws him toward the unspectacular visual ephemera, incidental landscapes, and soft architectures often overlooked in representations of the Caribbean during the era. At the same time, however, Burckhardt's formalism and his progressive visual strategies are undermined by his accounts of his affairs with Caribbean and African American women; these encounters are cynical, exploitative, callous, and contorted by the kinds of racist logic that his art declaims. Following this, at what expense recovery? By emphasizing form and dwelling on surface, Burckhardt creates what might be referred to as a representational field of evasive presences wherein content, depth, and the messy, material questions of politics are pushed beyond the edge of the image but, as his personal history and the history of the North American encounters with the Caribbean suggest, are never far away.

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